Narrative
Tales /märchen

Folktale: Chinese Folktale

This is a Chinese folk tale that the informant mother told her. It’s a story explaining why Chinese names are so short.

A long time ago there people would give their children long grandiose names. (The informant couldn’t remember what the names were). There was one family, the original family, with a mother, a father, a son, and a daughter. They were very proud of their son who had a long beautiful name. One day the son was playing and fell down a well. He was hanging on to the inside and starts yelling his family’s names so they could save him. But he starts to get tired because their names are really long. The daughter walks by the well but she only hears part of her name so she walks away. The father walks by the well but he only hears part of his name so he walks away. The mother walks by the well only hears part of her name but she recognizes her son’s voice. She tries to save her son but when she reaches for his hand he begins to fall further into the well. So she grabs his hair and holds tight to try to pull him up. But she couldn’t do it by herself so she calls for her husband by his really long name. She gets tired calling for him but finally her hears and goes to help. But they can’t pull him up by themselves so they call for the daughter by her really long name. They get tired yelling her name but she finally hears them. They pull the son out of well. The family decides to shorten their names to avoid this problem in the future. So that is why Chinese people have short names and why they have lines on their hands, from pulling the boy’s hair.

My informant said that she first heard this tale in elementary school. She still remembers. She also says that she thinks a lot of Chinese folklore tries to explain why things are the way they are.

I noticed that despite being a Chinese folktale there are a few similarities to European folktales. This tale has examples of the rule of three, it uses repetition, and no more than two actors in one scene. Also, the folktale has some slight mythic qualities; the story refers to the original family so the story takes place at the beginning of the world. It’s not sacred though, at least the informant didn’t consider it sacred. I think the reason for that is that this tale is very similar to Tikki Tikki Tempo by Rudyard Kipling. I looked this tale up because I forgot to ask the informant for the title and this book came up. It is also a story about a kid with a long name that falls into a well. However, the story the informant gave me has different characters in it and the tale also explains why people have marks on their hands. Maybe this is case of authored works becoming folklore because the person telling it didn’t know it was copyrighted. The story the informant told me is slightly different from the book. Does authored work turn into folklore when the teller makes changes to the tale?

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